Hey, babes! Welcome to our very first book club discussion; I am so excited to get started! I hope you have been enjoying our pick, A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout. If you haven't started yet, it's not too late! There's plenty of time to start before our final discussion on July 14th. For those of you that have been reading along, I told you in the announcement post that we would be reading to the end of Chapter 20 (p.s. it's totally okay if you read ahead!).
I have been absolutely loving the story so far, I have to say that it is already one of my favorite books that I've read in years (yes - woah). The fact that this book is based on a true story is so moving and, in my opinion, brings it to an entirely new level. I happily devoured all 20 chapters in a matter of 2 days. I was unable to tear myself away from Amanda's boldness as a woman traveling alone through foreign countries, the terrifying run-ins in each place that she visited, and her unique empathy for those that she came in contact with including her captors. I hope that you all enjoyed these first 20 chapters as much as I did. Now - grab your book, pour an extra large glass of vino (you deserve it), and let's get started!
1. Above all else, Amanda identifies herself as a traveler, an identity born out of her childhood obsession with National Geographic. Why do you think National Geographic had such a large impact on her? What led Amanda to make the leap from the legions of armchair travelers into someone whose life revolved around her journeys?
2. On page 14, Amanda discusses sneaking into an amusement park after dark, with a childhood friend. She writes, “…we allowed ourselves to relax and feel giddy, forgetting that it was dark and we were trespassing, forgetting everything that scared or haunted us…” How does this childhood memory reflect Amanda’s experience traveling to foreign countries and unknown places? Is part of the thrill of travel related to risk?
3. Amanda’s first trip, to South America, initially disappoints her because Caracas doesn’t “feel foreign”. What does this demonstrate about the different ways people travel? As she leaves Caracas and ventures into the kind of journey she’ll come to crave, what changes for her?
4. During this trip to South America, Amanda confronts the experience of venturing off the beaten path, and defines the feeling of the frontier as “a knifepoint between elation and terror” (p. 36). How will this balance come to define her travels?
5. The memory of cutting her friend Kelly’s hair will become one of the things that sustains Amanda throughout her captivity. Why do you think this memory sticks with her?
6. In Dhaka, Amanda experiences what she sees as the “beautiful” side of Islam, but also confronts the dangers inherent in being a solo female traveler in that particular place. How does this dichotomy influence her experiences in captivity?
7. On page 67, Amanda quotes Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, “All news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there…” Both Nigel and Amanda understand this sentiment, and it’s partially what draws them to Somalia. What do you make of the idea that bad news would bring someone to a place?
8. Amanda’s time in captivity is spent trying to negotiate the best way to stay alive—she vacillates between trying to understand and connect with her captors, through things like converting to Islam, and resistance like trying to escape. Why do you think Amanda and Nigel have such different takes how to best manage their captivity? What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each method?
1. In Amanda's childhood, she recalls using National Geographic as a means of "escaping" her reality: an abusive and strange household. She said in the first sentence of the book that when she was young, she trusted the world (what she saw in National Geographic) and that it wasn't ugly or dangerous. Her defense against girls at school bullying her or one of her Mom's abusive boyfriends was that she planned to move on one day and far away from it all. I think that submersing herself in pages of National Geographic and other, foreign cultures within the magazine was a good means of coping as a child.
2. Amanda recalling her experience with trespassing inside of a dark and mysterious amusement park at night with her friend was a great foreshadowing for her travels. "...forgetting everything that scared or haunted us, lost in the playland we'd never before seen". In the beginning of the book, Amanda described herself as a frightened kid. I think that traveling allowed Amanda to push past her boundaries and her fears and enjoy the thrill of risk and of being alone while traveling. I do believe that part of the thrill of travel is related to risk, especially for full-time travelers as opposed to "vacationers". For me, the point of traveling to a foreign country is to immerse oneself in the culture and into the unknown which comes with a certain risk and inability to control a situation.
3. I can relate to Amanda's disappointment in her first trip to South America in Caracas and it not "feeling foreign". When I travel, my first desire is to learn or experience something totally new and unrelated to where I came from (home). I believe that the only way to grow is to push your boundaries and experience new emotions that come with "feeling foreign". However, I definitely do not think that everyone that travels feels the same way. I think that for some people, the point of their travels is to simply de-stress or relax; which is not something you would typically anticipate if you are foreign to the location. As Amanda leaves Caracas, she begins looking for places that are "off of the beaten path" and that typical travelers would not choose. She begins to look for the beauty to share in places that travelers don't see any - which I've found is a reoccurring theme in this book.
4. This was the first time in Amanda's travels that I remember that she was truly afraid of something awful happening to her while she slept on the beach with Jamie. She was experiencing something new but, also uncertain and potentially dangerous. The phrase that she used to describe it, "a knifepoint between elation and terror" is a great way to describe Amanda's travels in foreign countries by herself throughout the book. A lot of the experiences that Amanda recalls while traveling are positive and freeing, learning new things about herself and pushing herself further. She learns how to be independent and rely on herself throughout her travels which I think can be a life-changing realization, especially for women. On the other hand, other experiences that Amanda recalls are terrifying mainly due to the fact that she is traveling alone. For example, getting robbed with the gun pressed to her back in a crowd full of people.
5. Amanda describes this memory with Kelly as a "made-up story" or a "fever dream" while she is in captivity. I think that she holds so tightly to this memory because it draws her back to her former "reality" and really shows her that the worries that she had prior to her kidnapping were nothing like she thought they were at the time. She remembers the feeling of having friends and people that cared for her around and cutting a friend's hair after her Summer heartbreak and how "big" it felt, because Kelly's hair was so beautiful and long. In comparison to her situation now however, being beaten and starved, the idea of cutting someone's long hair is minuscule and carefree. I think that the point of re-telling the story with Kelly is to show that while she is in captivity, she begins to truly see and appreciate the little things in her prior life that she took for granted.
6. I found it very interesting when Amanda was in Dhaka and several of the hotel owners would not allow her to stay because she was a solo female traveler and not with a husband. It made it very difficult for her to find a place to sleep overnight alone and at the same time, on the street, all attention was drawn to her each time she passed by alone. The scariest part of Dhaka was when Amanda's cab driver began to take her off of the beaten path and further away from the city center, where she had asked to be taken. It appeared that she was going to be kidnapped or harmed before she smashed her fist into the side of his head and forcefully made him turn the car around. Because of Amanda's travels alone as a woman, I think that she was better prepared for her experience in captivity since she was the only female. She was very aware of the dangers of sexual assault and abuse due to the fact that she was surrounded by all male captors. Oftentimes throughout the beginning of her captivity, she was defensive about sleeping, changing clothes, or showering even in her room.
7. My belief is that Amanda was drawn to Somalia mainly due to the fact that all people hear is negative news from the country and she wanted to shed some light on the good. I think that Amanda wanted to give a different perspective on a very tough situation by showing the "normal" in the country like two children playing together or a neighbor watching after another neighbor - rather than the public executions and other crime that is reported and televised. I really admire Amanda for thinking this way because it shows that she can view life and situations by seeking out the positive rather than being blinded by the overwhelming negative.
8. I think that because of Amanda's unique way of thinking through other's perspectives, she immediately looks for the positive in light of being kidnapped. She tries to get to know her captors and understand the reasoning behind their actions while also making them realize that she is a human being. She was attempting to build their sympathy for her by making herself more relatable to the captors. I think that this method really helped Amanda to cope in the beginning. Once Amanda realized however, that they are willing to break their moral code in the Koran by putting their wants first (ex. the ransom money), she begins to realize that her only hope is to escape since her family will not be able to pay. Nigel was more resistant in the beginning of his and Amanda's captivity and did not engage with their captors as much. I think this was because he was depressed and had lost hope. He did not want to convert to Islam when Amanda had suggested it because he thought that it would only get them in more trouble if the captors felt that they were not being sincere in their prayers. I think that an advantage of Nigel's method is that it helped him fly "under the radar" while in captivity, by not engaging with their captors. However, I did see that as a big disadvantage as well because he was not building any relationship with them to help his situation, thus being easier to kill as an means of negotiating for the rest of the captives if the ransom money did not come through.
Now it's your turn to answer the discussion questions! Leave your responses in the comments below and feel free to get the conversation going with your fellow book club babes.
After you answer the questions from today's Q&A, keep reading. We will be finishing up the book on Thursday, July 14th and holding our final dicussion for the whole book that night at 7pm EST. We will post a reminder that morning on our Facebook page. Can't wait to see you there!
xo Anna Elizabeth
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